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Endeavor project wins Enviro Board nod

Thursday, April 7, 2005 by

Southpark Meadows praised for protecting trees

Last night the Environmental Board recommended approval of plans for a 147.5-acre shopping center to be developed on the site of the former Southpark Meadows music venue, praising the developer for modifying their plans to protect the environment of the area.

Endeavor Real Estate, the developer of Southpark Meadows Shopping Center, specifically asked the board to recommend two variances on the site allowing construction on slopes and to exceed cut and fill limits of more than four feet. The development is south of Slaughter Lane and west of I-35.

Endeavor plans to build a retail center with shops, services and restaurants while preserving some natural areas on the site, which was originally ranchland. “We plan to build on the level areas of the site, keeping as many of the trees in their current location as possible,” said attorney Steve Drenner, who represented the owners. “We will be keeping all but four of the trees in the central portion of the site where they are, and we will transplant those four trees on the site to preserve them.”

Drenner said the owners have agreed to several modifications of the plan suggested by city staff to protect the root systems of the trees. “We repositioned the restaurants near the main stand of trees to both preserve them and their major root systems,” Drenner said. “We think this will make for a great meeting place for folks in South Austin.”

Other features agreed to by the developer, according to staff, was that all cut and fill be structurally contained, all required landscaping will conform to the city’s Grow Green program, and replacement trees will be Class 1 container grown from native seeds. The builder will also hire a professional arborist to oversee tree protection and preservation over the life of the project, and will also hire a project engineer to oversee erosion control. That person is expected to maintain a daily log of operations for inspection by city staff.

According to Drenner, the majority of the site will drain to a large wet pond that will provide water quality treatment for 16.65 acre feet of water. There will also be an irrigation pond on the downstream side of the wet pond that will treat an additional 5.6 acre-feet of water, and will provide irrigation for landscape islands in the entire project.

Board Member Karin Ascot expressed concern over the success rate in transplanting the four large oak trees, which collectively measure 138 caliper inches. Ann Coleman, the project’s landscape architect, explained that, in her experience, there should be no problem. “About 90 percent of trees that size will survive being transplanted,” she said. “They are well within our comfort range. We plan to move and replant them on the same day.”

Another plus, according to Board Member Phil Moncada, was that no trees would be leaving the site. “In other places, we see them bundled and shipped to another location before they are transplanted,” he said. “This way they are not damaged in transit and have a much better chance of survival.”

Chair Mary Ruth Holder praised the project, saying it set a high standard for environmental protection. “My compliments on you landscape plans, your efforts to preserve and protect the area’s trees, and your commitment to erosion control,” she said. “It’s a model of what we like to see in these types of developments.”

The board voted 7-0 to recommend the variances, with Board Member William Curra abstaining because he arrived late and missed much of the presentation.

Notes from the campaign trail

Downtown forum shifts focus to different issues

The Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association hosted a downtown-centric forum for the candidates that could replace Council Members Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman.

Many of the questions posed by Planning Commission Chair and downtown resident Chris Riley at Tuesday night’s forum focused on concerns such as quality of life, the Waller Creek tunnel project, E nvision Central Texas and efforts to fix the downtown street system.

Place 1 candidates participating were Scott Williams, Casey Walker, Lee Leffingwell, Andrew Bucknall and Steve Adams. One question noted that 80 percent of downtown tax dollars are spent elsewhere in the city. Each candidate was asked whether he supported or opposed changing the equation. Adams said that too much property downtown was exempted from the tax rolls. He said areas of town should not be pitted against each other.

Bucknall said he lived in East Austin and understood the need to support services in areas of town where residents may be poorer than their neighbors. Leffingwell told the group it was obvious – given the compact nature of downtown – that the cost of services would be cheaper for downtown than to other areas of town. He suggested that some segment of the tax dollars – but not all – should be redirected to downtown to address needs such as unclear streets or broken sidewalks.

Taxes need to be fairer, Walker said, adding that some corporations pay too much, while some homeowners pay too little. Williams said the city has to work together, inside and outside downtown. Services should be evaluated on need rather than who screams the loudest or pays the most.

Candidates varied on whether Envision Central Texas should drive new zoning and development regulations. Adams said the survey was suspect. Williams said there was no right or wrong answer on the natural flow of the city but supported a walkable downtown. Leffingwell agreed with the theory that regulations should be reviewed in light of the Envision Central Texas results. Bucknall supported high density downtown but said zoning changes as the city changes.

All the Place 3 candidates participated. Asked whether the Waller Creek tunnel project needed further support, all wanted the project done. Jennifer Kim supported a new bond election but wanted to see the city encourage the county to participate in the project. Mandy Dealey wanted to see the city reconsider the project and possibly scale it back, given that voters had already approved $25 million toward the construction of the project. Margot Clarke said the project was overdue, especially given the flooding and drainage issues in the area. Gregg Knaupe also supported the completion of the project.

On the quality of life ordinances, all supported some sort of compassionate action on such measures. Clarke pointed out the indigent and homeless also had rights that should be protected and that some aspects of those ordinances – such as sitting on building fronts – appeared to go too far in one direction. The real issue was homelessness.

Dealey said the city must address the issue of temporary and chronic homelessness. The city needed to be careful not to criminalize homelessness, especially given the limitation on services and beds the city provides to the homeless. Kim agreed the city must deal with the root problems of homelessness, as well as make a clear statement of ordinances that needed to be enforced.

Knaupe said the two-pronged issue – homelessness and quality of life – should be addressed. The city lacks sufficient detoxification facilities and should be ready to utilize the additional capacity at Brackenridge Hospital to address the need for additional psychiatric beds in the region.

DANA members voted to endorse Leffingwell in Place 1, Kim in Place 3 and Council Member Betty Dunkerley in Place 4.

Plans to upgrade MoPac just starting

Plans to upgrade MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) – and the cross-town connections to MoPac – are still in the preliminary stages, transportation officials told a recent I ssues & Eggs session of the Downtown Austin Alliance.

Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) District Engineer Bob Daigh and city Transportation Engineer Peter Marsh provided the update. Daigh said the plans for MoPac are still in the early stages. He admitted that might not be something that local residents want to hear but said TxDOT would consider prior work on sound walls on MoPac.

“We’re at ground zero. I know that’s frustrating because some people think this project has been out there since the beginning of time,” Daigh said. “We are going to take what we have done to date and build upon it.”

Daigh said MoPac would be a two-phase study. The first phase will be an initial long-term picture of the region. The goal will be to make sure rail lines are maintained into downtown in case commuter rail is added to the picture. The high-occupancy vehicle lanes could take any number of forms, Daigh told the group.

“I would love to be able to say that we know exactly how we’re going to get traffic in and out of downtown, but we all know it’s going to take a long time,” Daigh said. “We want to be able to make sure we can get in and out of a transit center downtown and make sure we can get across from Interstate 35 to MoPac.”

Choices are likely to bring complex and contentious issues, Daigh said. Unfortunately, the city can’t wait 10 to 15 years to come up with a solution for MoPac.

TxDOT is faced with two issues. Not only does the agency need to worry about how managed lanes get into downtown, the district must also determine how traffic is “dropped” into downtown in some manner, Daigh said. The current access is inadequate.

“My hope is that we’ll come up fairly quickly with a short-term solution and bring that forward to the community. We intend to have a lot of neighborhood comment,” said Daigh, adding that the process was not likely to be exciting or jazzy. “It’s going to take a lot of work with the neighborhoods to consider how we’re going to get downtown.”

Marsh said the secondary issue is how to get the east-west crosstown traffic improved through the area. The issue of cross-traffic, Marsh admitted, was not new to the city. Still, the region must determine how to get traffic from MoPac over to I-35.

Not much capacity exists on current arterials, Marsh said. The city engineer said he had identified 11 corridors up and down MoPac, grouped into four groups, from low intensity to high intensity usage. The best candidates are likely to be off 51st Street. That exit could be used, in order to direct traffic into downtown on Red River, Marsh said.

“We need to get HOV facilities from Interstate 35 into downtown,” Marsh said. “We’re not seeing a lot of capacity south of 51st Street. We’re likely to consider using 51st Street onto Red River into downtown.”

Marsh said the city’s options are likely to emphasize mass transit and buses. Different corridors must be assessed in terms of capacity, possibly with the use of reversible lanes. Marsh said the city’s study also was likely to consider some of the pedestrian and bicycle issues in the area. A consultant is likely to guide the process, Marsh said.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daugherty seeks delay on 2030 plan . . . T ravis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty has sent a request to Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos asking that the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board postpone a vote on the 2030 Mobility Plan. That vote is set for Monday but Council Member Daryl Slusher has already sent a memo requesting that the vote be delayed until the group’s May meeting. Daugherty writes, “In an attempt to be better prepared for this all important vote I am driving all roads on the plan that are in Precinct 3 of Travis County. The vote could be held at the May 9th CAMPO meeting or move the June meeting to the 6th so that the Plan will be finalized by the 12th of June” . . . PAC reports . . . The Austin Police Association PAC reported collecting somewhat less than $7,000 during the last month, including $5,000 from heavy hitters in the real estate community. John Lewis and Terry Mitchell each contributed $2,000 and Tim Taylor gave $1,000. The PAC paid Lynda Rife $5,000 for political consulting on the 2005 City Council elections in conjunction with APA PAC’s endorsements of Lee Leffingwell, Gregg Knaupe and Council Member Betty Dunkerley. Rife helped Capital Metro with the agency’s successful commuter rail campaign last fall . . . Smoking referendum foes raised $19,483 between Jan. 28 and March 29, according to their report. Keep Austin Free PAC treasurer Paul Silver, owner of 219 West, loaned the committee $4,000. Other donors were in the bar, restaurant and vending machine business. Expenditures included about $1,100 for T-shirts by Bearded Lady Productions, legal fees of $3,000 for the group’s lawsuit and about $1,400 to political consultant Mark Littlefield . . . Any non-voters out there? . . Citizens are reminded that today is the last day to register to vote in the May 7 City Council election. Forms are available from Travis County, local post offices, public libraries and some grocery and convenience stores . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Environmental Board committee looking into possible options for Water Treatment Plant #4. They will meet at 11:30am in Room 240 of One Texas Center. The city’s website listed the meeting at “11:30PM” but we find that a bit farfetched. . . Firefighters promote bilingual class . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez, State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and the presidents of the Austin Firefighters Association and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will hold a news conference at 2pm today to talk about the importance of the firefighters’ bilingual education program to the Austin community. The event will be at the firefighters’ office, 55 North IH35, Suite 240 . . Today’s meetings . . . Candidates have been invited to talk to the Austin Board of Realtors at noon today at 10900 Stonedale . . . That same hearty group will get together again for the Democracy for Texas forum at 7pm at Mother Egan’s Irish Pub on Sixth Street . . . Council agenda . . . Once again the Council will try to come to consensus—or at least four votes—on zoning for the Rainey Street Neighborhood. They will also have an opportunity to authorize incentives for Freescale Semiconductor—10 years worth of rebates of property tax, payroll incentives and “airport financial assistance” for an estimated total of $11 million from the city. The Council is also expected to name members of the new Envision Central Texas bond committee and appoint a to help make recommendations regarding quality of life issues for African-Americans.

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